Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gaddis and Chomsky on the Cold War

John Lewis Gaddis, from all I’ve read, is considered one of the preeminent experts on the Cold War. He has a new book out on the subject, but I decided to read one I already had before ordering the new one. I have The United States and the End of the Cold war, Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations. His preface is dated July of 1991, and, since the USSR failed in 1989, this book will comprise some early thoughts on why that happened.
A peculiar fact of American history is that its default has been and to a large extent still is, isolationism. We don’t care how many experts tell us it will be better to leave our troops in Iraq. We want our troops home now. Obama is taking a chance by beefing up our troop effort in Afghanistan. A lot of people will be thinking that they didn’t want him to take our troops out of Iraq just so he can send them to Afghanistan. This sort of thinking would be alien to the British during their empire days, but it is part of our American heritage. Our first president urged us not to entangle ourselves in foreign wars and there has always been a significant segment of our society opposing every war we entered, including that most popular of wars, the Second world War.
The Cold War was no different. Gaddis on page 7 writes, “The United States did accept, after 1945, political responsibilities it had shunned after 1918, but at the same time it dismantled its military forces almost as thoroughly as it had done a quarter of a century earlier. Gaps between commitments and capabilities became painfully evident as President Harry S. Truman launched the effort in 1947 to contain the Soviet Union’s expansionism, while attempting to hold military spending within limits only slightly above prewar levels. It took Moscow’s emergence as a rival to Europe but also the appearance of a perceived communist threat on a global scale – something that did not develop until after the victory of that ideology in China and the onset of the Korean War – to convince the nation of the need for a permanently large military establishment, and for the levels of spending that would be necessary to sustain it.”
There is nothing unusual in what Gaddis says in the above paragraph. I’ve read equivalent analyses a number of times. Roosevelt worked hard to get the U.S. to abandon its isolationism and go to the aid of Britain and France. With his Bush-like personality, Truman probably wouldn’t have been able to do that had he been in Roosevelt’s place, but there was enough impetus after the Second World War, enough knowledge about Stalinist Russia to provide him with a slightly less isolationist congress and nation. Also, there was the Kennan “long telegram” that described Soviet Russia in terms everyone could understand. Stalinist Russia wasn’t just another European nation, but American politicians were slow to understand that. Apprehension over Stalin’s intensions grew slowly, but it grew.
Now let’s turn to Chomsky and see what he has to say about American Cold War motives. I don’t disqualify Chomsky just because History and Cold War are not his primary field. Any scholar who knows how to study can make himself an expert on virtually any subject. But does Chomsky know how to study Foreign Affairs? By comparing what Chomsky says in 1970 to what Gaddis says in 1992 isn’t fair, but this is the book I happen to have, so I’ll try to make do.
On page 4 and 5 Chomsky writes, “The British economist Joan Robinson has described the American crusade against Communism in the following terms:
‘It is obvious enough that the United States crusade against Communism is a campaign against development. By means of it the American people have been led to acquiesce in the maintenance of a huge war machine and it use by threat or actual force to try to suppress every popular movement that aims to overthrow ancient or modern tyranny and begin to find a way to overcome poverty and establish national self-respect. In those countries whose governments have been prepared to accept American support, ‘aid’ is given in a form which may do more to inhibit development than to promote it.”
Chomsky then writes, “Rhetoric aside, the underlying assumption is formulated not very differently by the makers of American policy. Consider for example, how the threat of Communism to the American system is defined in an extensive study sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the National Planning Association, a study that involved a representative segment of the tiny elite that largely determines foreign policy, whoever is technically in office. The primary threat of Communism, as they see it, is the economic transformation of the Communist powers ‘in ways which reduce their willingness and ability to complement the industrial economies of the West.’ Correspondingly, the American crusade against Communism is not a campaign against all forms of development, but only against the effort of indigenous movements to extricate their societies from the integrated world system dominated largely by American Capital, and to use their resources for their own social and economic development.”
Chomsky’s first reference, Joan Robinson, is a famous Marxian economist. I have tried to read what she wrote with sympathy. Yes, we can say that by attempting to oppose Communism in Korea and Vietnam we are inadvertently opposing Communists who think that their approach will “develop” their countries, and yes, the non-Communist governments we supported in the process of opposing Communism were tyrannies, but by no stretch of imagination should any honest person argue that we thereby favored tyranny over development and that is what she seems to imply. Now as to our “aid” inhibiting development, that was undoubtedly true in many cases. In opposing Communism, which was our primary task, we dealt with the governments that existed. And much of our “aid” money went into pockets rather than into national development, but the implication here is that Communists would have done better with the money, or even without it. While Chomsky may not have repudiated what he wrote in 1970, I would be interested in learning whether Robinson ever repudiated what she wrote. Communists who won in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia did not do well in developing their respective nations.
As to Chomsky’s second reference, I was offended that he implied that his referenced study “involved a represented segment of the tiny elite that largely determined foreign policy.” This group of Wilson Foundation members are the real government, he says, despite whoever is technically in office. Is there any evidence for that? I have never seen it. Histories and biographies are written about the people who determine foreign policy. Business interests may lobby, but they don’t “determine.” But perhaps Chomsky’s evidence exists and I just missed it.
I looked up the Woodrow Wilson Foundation: http://diglib.princeton.edu/ead/getEad?id=ark:/88435/br86b3595 I read, “The Woodrow Wilson Foundation was an organization formed in 1922 in New York City for the "perpetuation of Wilson's ideals" through research grants and publications.” I saw nothing to indicate that this organization was so powerful as to be able to “determine foreign policy,” But Chomsky actually says that those who do determine foreign policy belong to this organization. I couldn’t tell whether that was true or not since he doesn’t name names.
As to the “National Planning Association,” I couldn’t find anything that answered Chomsky’s description. The source for this invoking of these two organizations is William Elliott’s The Political Economy of American Foreign Policy, published in 1955. This book is out of print, but one can buy the one used copy Amazon has for $170. The editor of this book was an influential fellow according to Wikipedia: William Y. Elliott “was hired by Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, and he was to remain at Harvard for the next 41 years, during which time he became an adviser to a number of American presidents and presidential candidates, including Al Smith in 1928. He was a member of Roosevelt’s Brain Trust in the 1930s and '40s, and Vice President of the War Production Board in Charge of Civilian Requirements during World War II. He also accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta.
“Post-war, Elliott served on the National Security Council. Though he was a script-writer for Republican Richard Nixon’s 1960 election run, the Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson retained him as a State Department advisor.
“Elliott became dean of the Harvard Summer School, where he would establish the Harvard International Seminar, directed by his student and protégé Henry Kissinger. Many attendees went on to became heads of state or government in their respective countries, including Yigal Allon in Israel, Yashuhiro Nakasone in Japan, and Pierre Trudeau in Canada.”
No name other than Elliott is referenced by Chomsky at this point, and while I would concede that Elliott was an influential fellow, I would not concede without a whole lot more evidence that he “determined foreign policy.” We see above a “segment” of the people influenced by Elliott but only Kissinger was an American.” Chomsky isn’t scholarly in this reference. He should have told us who he was quoting and not merely who the editor was.
Chomsky’s approach is different from mine in that I seek out the best and most reputable sources for my information. Gaddis clearly qualifies. Chomsky seems to be working from a preconceived idea. He knows what he wants to say and so seeks out references that support his view. Perhaps Gaddis will support my view. If I keep reading the “best” authorities then eventually I will grasp their position, but what is Chomsky doing? His references are obscure out of the way and incidental. More to come.

1 comment:

cheebaism said...

Just to point out the quote you use to display Chomsky's second point, he does not actually say that these people are the government rather they are a small sampling that represents the same socio-economic groups that form American governments and therefore there views, norms and values will be highly correlated.